Android's enterprise future is increasingly murky -- but Google may not care

An Android statue in the mist. Credit: Marcin Wichary via Flickr

If you think of Apple’s product strategy as a road map, it would be one created by a master cartographer with a clear vision and laser-like focus.

In contrast, Android’s product road map appears to have been crowd-sourced to a tech conference brainstorming session.

This was partially by design. Google’s intention when it rolled out its mobile operating system to challenge the iPhone was to allow developers and manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, and Motorola (which the search giant eventually purchased) to create their own flavors of Android, which would stand in contrast to Apple’s one-size-fits-all iOS.

However, with last week’s news that Android creator Andy Rubin has been replaced as leader of the mobile platform by Sundar Pichai, who runs Chrome and Apps for Google, the uncertainty over the direction of Android has reached new heights – or depths. And that could make it even harder for Android to achieve any meaningful inroads into the enterprise, where it’s a BYOD also-ran to Apple’s iOS-powered smartphones and tablets.

But Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies who this week wrote in Time that Android and Chrome are destined to merge, doesn’t think Google much cares about its BYOD prospects.

“I've felt for some time that Google doesn't have any interest in the enterprise and I still feel that way,” Bajarin tells CITEworld. “This is why Samsung had to create KNOX so they could take their own initiatives to secure because Google was not going to.”

KNOX is Samsung’s security platform introduced at last month’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It is designed to allay security concerns by allowing IT to keep personal data separate from enterprise data.

Even before KNOX, Samsung last year introduced its SAFE (Samsung Approved for Enterprise) program designed, as CITEworld's Ryan Faas explains, “to offer enterprise IT groups the same kind of granular management features found in the classic BlackBerry devices and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server.”

There's a clear message Samsung is trying to convey with these programs: while Google may not care about the enterprise, Samsung does.

Indeed, Samsung is not only the world’s most successful manufacturer of Android devices, it’s the only one to make a (modest) dent in the enterprise so far. The company’s Galaxy SIII smartphone represented 6% of all enterprise activations reported by mobile device manufacturer Good Technology for the fourth quarter. Last week Samsung introduced the new Galaxy S4, which will ship with KNOX in April and May.

All of which indicates some kind of commitment on Samsung’s part to Android.

Or maybe not. Samsung is also working with Intel on Tizen, the Linux-based software platform designed to power smartphones, tablets, netbooks, smart televisions, and in-vehicle entertainment devices.

“I firmly believe Samsung either needs to fork Android and make it their own or fully invest in Tizen,” Bajarin says. While he calls KNOX “a necessary step for right now,” Bajarin says he sees “no reason why those assets can't be transferred to Tizen. I imagine Samsung still needing to provide some security solutions on their own no matter what platform they choose.”

If Samsung eventually moves away from Android to push its own open-source mobile OS, where will that leave Android in the enterprise?

It’s hard to tell. And that platform uncertainty is another impediment (along with security concerns) for Android in the enterprise realm. As Bajarin writes in Time, “I’m thus convinced that Android as we know it today will look very different — if it exists at all — five years from now.” You can’t get more uncertain than that.

Nonetheless, Bajarin says Chrome could bring something attractive to the enterprise table.

“Chrome presents a different opportunity, because it is completely browser based,” he tells CITEworld. “This would in essence be the same if Android were indeed to run in the browser on Chromebooks as I suspect. In this environment there is much less sensitive or malicious code that can be put on the device because it is cloud centric. Therefore, so long as enterprises have secure ‘clouds,’ these devices can seamlessly connect to them.”

That being said, Bajarin adds, “How businesses use these devices is still unclear.”

As unclear as a crowd-sourced road map.

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